All eyes are on Amsterdam-based grocery-delivery startup Picnic, fresh out of a 100 million euro ($123.5 million dollars) investment from a number of Dutch firms which will allow them to fund a national rollout of their service. The Hague, the third largest city in the Netherlands, will be the newest marquee name added to the company’s delivery footprint. Picnic symbolizes hope for clever newcomers to digital commerce who believe they can make inroads in a David vs. Goliath battle for home shoppers.
Picnic, which is free to customers, works directly with suppliers to deliver fresh goods to homes using energy-efficient, custom-designed electric vehicles made in France and Italy. The company’s strategic advantage is its mastery of logistics; rather than following the lead of most on-demand delivery services, Picnic follows set routes somewhat akin to milkmen of the ‘50s and ‘60s.
The company piloted its service one and a half years ago in Amersfoort where it grabbed a sizeable market share from existing competitors. Picnic then expanded to Leusden, Soest, Utrecht, Maarssen and Almere with a warehouse in Utrecht. Picnic now has 90 electric carts roaming the streets of The Netherlands and has garnered 30,000 customers.
Despite the large investment, Picnic’s future is under debate. In addition to its free delivery, the company offers low prices but is faced with the enormous resources available to competitor Albert Heijn. Owned by parent company Ahold Delhaize, Heijn is the largest supermarket chain in The Netherlands with ah.nl as its digital grocery delivery/in-store pickup business. Ahold, which has more than 1,000 stores Heijn stores, and owns the majority of U.S. online grocery retailer Peapod, has yearly revenue of more than 38 billion euros. Beyond heavily financed rivals, many question Picnic’s business model of free delivery. This begs the question as to whether Picnic is aiming become a major player or sell its logistics “value chain” to a larger competitor with a pan-European customer base.
In a 2013 report on the future of grocery delivery in Europe, McKinsey and Company, the consulting firm predicted that the market for online grocery will play out differently in different countries based on geography, product margins and consumer interest. It cited pricing, selection and online experience (including issues about payment security) as obstacles that had to be overcome to win marketshare, either in individual countries or across the continent. The past four years have shown McKinsey to be right on the money with its analysis.
The U.K. represents a microcosm of the dynamics of the European grocery delivery market opportunity estimated by Euromonitor to be worth about 10 billion pounds—representing a major tipping point. As in the Netherlands, competitive forces pit local supermarket chains Tesco, Waitrose, Morrisons and Sainsbury against online-only retailer, Ocado. Sensing the U.K. market was ripe for its massive reach, Amazon began its Amazon Fresh service in mid-June 2016 to Central and East London. It is Amazon’s first grocery-delivery foray outside the U.S.
Amazon’s service is available only to Prime Members which costs 79 pounds per year. On top of that fee, after one free month, customers pay an additional seven pounds per month fee on top of their Prime membership. For each delivery over 40 pounds (weight) there is no additional charge; for smaller ones there is another four pounds tacked on.
And then there’s Asda, a large British grocery chain that is a wholly owned subsidiary of Walmart. With stores primarily in the North of England, its grocery delivery service was not highly rated by shoppers in a 2015 survey. However, it does provide the U.S. retailing giant with a base to invest and expand at any point.